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January 24, 2024 55 mins

For our Season 3 premiere of She Pivots, host Emily Tisch Sussman sits down with Misty Copeland—principal ballerina with American Ballet Theater, mother, designer, author, and philanthropist. Misty recounts falling in love with ballet, being part of a difficult public custody battle, and the challenges of injuries in her early career. She also opens up about the isolation of being the only Black ballerina in the room, –an experience that drives her advocacy and philanthropy today–and how becoming a mother has shaped her life. (And for the Swifties: Misty talks about how performing with the superstar at the American Music Awards was “an incredible experience.”)

 

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She Pivots was created by host Emily Tisch Sussman to highlight women, their stories, and how their pivot became their success. To learn more about Misty, follow us on Instagram @ShePivotsThePodcast or visit shepivotsthepodcast.com.

 

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:10):
Welcome back to season three of She Pivots. I'm your host,
Emilie Tish Susman, coming to you from an endless winter
of sickness. So we've told up to date almost fifty
stories of incredible women, and as a result of this
show like we're seeing a culture shift, like the shift
we had hoped, because people are really being able to

(00:31):
see themselves in the stories and seeing that they can
make changes, and sometimes the changes are just a perspective
shift yourself. One of the things that makes me crazy
is when I hear people say like, oh, I had
this career before, but that was all a waste because
I'm not going to do it again and I'm doing
something different now. It's not a waste. Everything you did
built you up to the person that you are right now.

(00:53):
You've taken something from it. You've grown in MiG ways
you may not even realize. And I think it's especially
true for vicious women. It's hard to see themselves this
way if their circumstances have changed, if they're not in
the same job. But you know what, you are still
that same ambitious person. It doesn't mean that you're not
the same ambitious person that you were if your circumstances changed,
it means that you have changed the definition of your success.

(01:16):
You're not lost, you're not gone, you have everything you
need inside of you just need to change the perspective
and the world where conventional notions of achievement often revolve
around the linear career paths, I'm really proud to spotlight
the real life experiences of these remarkable women who've shown
that success is not defined by one side spits all formula.

(01:37):
I broke the cycle by leaving my decades long career
in DC politics after I had three kids in just
four years. Like it wasn't easy, and at times I
doubt that I made the right decision. I definitely have FOMO,
but as I look back, it was in those really
low points that I was able to truly change my
perspective and then carve out a different and possibly better

(01:59):
path for myself. I'm so happy that I can have
this platform to not just highlight the stories of women
who have made changes, but also tell the stories for myself.
And it gives me ideas of places to be investing,
businesses to be looking at, really affirming that it's okay
that I have a different perspective than I did before.
So you know, in this last couple of years, I've

(02:20):
started investing in more women owned businesses. I just became
a co owner of Gotham FC Football women's football. I'm
investing in theater, taking different risks and different kind of
chances that I couldn't have done if I was still
in the same political job that I was before. So
I'm so excited for this season ahead and I can't
wait to share the stories with you.

Speaker 2 (02:46):
Welcome back to she Pivots. I'm Misty Copeland. We're kicking
off this season with a true icon, Misty Copeland. You
may know her as the first African American premiere ballerina
of the American Ballet Theater. You may know her as
an author. You may know her as a founder or philanthropist.

(03:07):
Now you might be thinking, has in Misty always been
a ballerina.

Speaker 1 (03:11):
Yes, that may be true, but Misty's journey to becoming
the first black premiere ballerina for the American Ballet Theater
is more than meets the eye. Misty grew up in
San Pedro, California, and didn't start dancing until the age
of thirteen, which, as any dance enthusiast will know it's
quite old to begin ballet. I had the honor of
interviewing Misty in person, and her being is just full

(03:33):
of grace, Like she floats in the room. She's confident
and kind, and you'd never guess that she grew up
incredibly shy. Misty had a unique journey to her success,
and one that forced her to redefine and find new
versions of success for herself at an extremely young age.
From going through a difficult custody battle between her mother
and her mentor and dance teacher, to going through delayed

(03:56):
puberty at the age of nineteen and ballet opera tunities
drying up as a result. It was fascinating to hear
how those changes shifted her perspective and allowed me to
embrace different paths and roles as one of the most
famous ballerinas, and specifically black ballerinas in the world. As
her success has grown, she's had to learn to step
into her power, and she has, from starting the Misty

(04:20):
Copeland Foundation to authoring several books to starting her own
athletic warline. I'm so excited to share this story with you,
and even more excited for everything to come in season three,
Hope you enjoy.

Speaker 2 (04:35):
My name is Misty Copeland. I am a principal ballerina
with American Ballet Theater. I am also a mother. I
am an author, I am a philanthropist, I am a designer.

Speaker 1 (04:45):
I'm a woman. I love that. I love that so much. Well,
I'm so glad we opened with that question. The premise
of this show is that we are not singular beings,
right Like we don't. If we look at someone's resume,
we think, oh, of course that's the trajectory they took,
but it's not how we experience it, right, And that
it's not just all professional resume stuff, right Like, these

(05:08):
personal things in our life changed our perspective, and you
are an incredible example of that. I've always wanted I
love the arts. I've always wanted to have, you know,
people and the arts on especially in dance, because you
don't necessarily decide as a dancer when your first dance
career is over.

Speaker 2 (05:28):
Absolutely, I feel like it's such an interesting field that
I was going to say I chose, but I didn't
choose it. I think that it really found me and
I feel like what I've done with this opportunity was
used dance as a tool to do so many other things,

(05:48):
and often in the ballet world in particular, we don't
have agency. We don't have kind of control over when
our career begins, when it ends, when we can have children,
what the next steps will look like. You know, there
hasn't been room, I guess, for more diversity in so

(06:08):
many ways. And I feel like coming into this field,
I was such a shy and quiet girl and really
just like insecure and trying to understand how I fit
into the world. And my family always found it so
profound that I would choose this field where I'm in

(06:29):
front of an audience and I'm entertaining and I'm you know,
you know, it was the opposite of who I was
as a little girl. But there was something that I
was drawn to about this form of expression that allowed
me to grow in ways I don't think I ever
would have had I not been introduced to ballet.

Speaker 1 (06:47):
Do you remember before you started ballet people ask little
kids like, what do you want to be when you
grew up? Like, do you remember.

Speaker 2 (06:54):
Before thirteen years old being asked that question? No idea?

Speaker 1 (06:58):
I had no idea what I wanted to be.

Speaker 2 (07:00):
I don't feel that I really ever felt a sense
of like purpose or belonging, or that there was anything
I was particularly good at or really interested in. I
was so introverted and was literally just existing and hiding,
like I didn't want to be the center of attention.
Just the life that we were living. You know, my

(07:20):
mom was a single parent. We often didn't have a
roof over our heads, so it was like my every
day was don't let anyone know what's going on in
your home. Life Like that was my existence. So the
thought of a future or what I would do was
not a part of wasn't a part of my life
at all. It was probably just the worst time in
my childhood. And when ballet found me.

Speaker 1 (07:44):
Well, you started ballet pretty I don't want to say old,
that's ridiculously you were thirteen, but it's such a specific
athletic form that you really do need to start young.
And you started many years probably after Peers did, and
that you kind of watched for like a week.

Speaker 2 (08:02):
Yeah, again, like I had no knowledge of what the
classical ballet world was. I'd never heard classical music before,
and it was it was really music that made me
be drawn to dance, but it was more pop music
and soul and R and B and hip hop. That
drew me to wanting to be on the drill team
at my middle school. And from there I was really

(08:24):
pushed into taking this free ballet class at my local
boys and Girls club at the Community Centers right across
the street from my school. And I just was I
had no interest, and the teacher was like, just give
it a shot, and you know, and it was like, well,
just stay in the room, and that was like the
first step. So I was like, fine, I'll sit on
the bleachers and I'll watch. And she kept sending notes
home with my you know, just to give to my

(08:44):
mom and just say like, I'm really interested in having
this to take these classes. And yeah, I think it
was maybe a week later that I finally said, okay,
I'll do it. So I took that first ballet class
on the basketball court in my gym clothes, and that
teacher said, you're a prodigy. I've never seen anyone who
could pick up the movement so quickly and retain the

(09:07):
information and whose body could just really adapt and you
know musically, how you connected the movement to the music.

Speaker 3 (09:16):
Misty Copeland has been dancing for only three years, but
she has won competitions over ballerinas with years more experience.
Many in the dance world say Misty is poised on
the brink of stardom.

Speaker 2 (09:29):
I just hope to become famous bellarina.

Speaker 1 (09:33):
But at just thirteen, still living in a motel with
her mother and five siblings, she was just a young
girl with no idea or concept of the heights she
would eventually reach.

Speaker 2 (09:44):
I fell in love immediately, like once I was in
the atmosphere that I still to this day hold. It
gets such a sacred space. It was the first time
in my life that I was in a room where
I felt safe and I felt seen and heard. It's
seems so opposing that you're practically naked and vulnerable, you know,

(10:04):
in what you're wearing and the way that you're kind
of giving yourself to this art form. But I felt
so in control and brave and confident, like all of
the things I had never experienced growing up, you know,
as one of six children, with little stability throughout my life.
And it was just like, oh, like the puzzle pieces

(10:27):
just came together and I was like, this is what
I'm supposed to be doing, and it just started to
make sense and what I was learning in the studio,
I was starting to open up and be able to
apply those things outside in school, even just social skills.
And it all feels so backwards to me now. And
I'm sure people on your team could relate to this,

(10:47):
as you know performers and dancers, but so many ballet
dancers don't have great social skills and are not really
you know, you're kind of in this bubble because you're
training and you're working towards professional career, and you don't
have a lot of time to be social in your life.
And I feel like it was like the opposite experience
for me. It was just opened up a whole world

(11:10):
that I didn't even know was there, and I grew
in leaps and bounds.

Speaker 1 (11:14):
Wow, when you say, you know you took skills that
you learned from ballet and you took it to outside
social skills, what were some of the ways that you
took it into school.

Speaker 2 (11:23):
There was an understanding of being able to be present
and to focus, to have this sense of discipline, to
be able to think critically, even to have more empathy,
like to think outside of myself. I was not capable
of doing that because I was so concerned with just

(11:43):
surviving every day that I couldn't even see beyond, you know,
this little bubble that I was existing in and I
didn't want anyone to see me.

Speaker 1 (11:52):
And it started to change.

Speaker 2 (11:54):
You know. It was like, I'm feeling confident about who
I am in my body, and I want people to
see me now. I want people to see the person
I'm growing into, and it just it completely changed my
outlook on everything.

Speaker 1 (12:09):
So what was your schedule like as a teenager?

Speaker 2 (12:12):
They ended up pulling me from my public school. So
I was doing homeschooling independent studies, and I would take
like an adult ballet class in the mornings. I would
go home and do some homework, and then I would
take a beginner ballet class at like three o'clock, and
then I would take the advanced ballet class in the evening.
So I was taking up to three classes a day,

(12:34):
like maybe a modern class, and there's sometimes or a
pilates class. And then she had a company, so I
was also performing with this company, so we would you know,
learn choreography and be rehearsing for different shows. So it
was pretty rigorous. At this point, Misty was training with
her instructor and mentor Cindy Bradley, who believed in Misty's

(12:55):
talent more than anyone ever had before. I never felt
judged by her. She was just a support, a friend,
a mentor, all of these things to me, and a
ballet teacher that was just so open to giving as
much of herself to me to get me to where

(13:17):
I needed to be professionally.

Speaker 1 (13:20):
Still, eventually, Misty's intense schedule, paired with her rocky home life,
forced her to pick between the two, so she did
what she thought was best. One day, Cindy drove her
home to the hotel where she was living, and Misty
told her she had to quit dance and ran inside.

Speaker 2 (13:36):
A couple of minutes later, there's a knock at the
door and Cindy had turned around. She had left and
was just kind of in shock with what she just witnessed,
and then decided to turn back around and she spoke
with my mom for a while, and my mom turned
to me and said, Cindy asked if you would want
to go and live with her so you can continue training,

(13:57):
And it was shocking, and I was like yes.

Speaker 1 (14:01):
Both Misty and her mother said yes. After some time
tensions rose. As Misty became busier and busier with dance,
she was less able to go home and visit her mother.
That's when the court battle ensued.

Speaker 3 (14:14):
That fud sparked an unusual legal battle over the control
of the young dancer's future and played out in national
headlines and on television talk shows.

Speaker 1 (14:26):
So you went through this pretty prolonged court battle. Well,
I guess the adults in your life did that you
were the subject of And to know that you were
so introverted and had not that long before that come
from this place of you know, I just I don't
want anyone to notice me, to now be getting all
of this press, and then in the end you moved

(14:47):
back with your mother. Yeah, do you remember what that
was like? To have gone from this like public, public
battle to then just be in private together like in
those intimate moments was mortifying.

Speaker 2 (15:01):
It was probably the worst year of my life fifteen
years old. When you know, they think there was just
like a lack of communication and understanding on both ends,
like from my teacher, what it meant for my mom,
you know, having six children that she's raised on her own,
and having in her eyes one taken away from her,
and then from my teacher, it's like, but do you
understand this talent that we have here? And for me

(15:24):
in the middle, you know, it was like I just
want everyone to be happy, and I just want to
continue dancing, and it blew up and became something so
much bigger than I ever imagined. Going from you know,
wanting to hide the fact that me and my siblings
were living in a one room motel to having it
all over every news and talk show, news show you

(15:47):
could think of, was just it was traumatizing. And then
having to go back to school, you know, once I
moved back in with my mom, I was back in
school and everyone knew everything about me. So those were
really really tough years. I was I couldn't wait to
not be in this in the limelight like that. I
would say it was pretty consistent though, from the time

(16:08):
I started dancing that I was in the public eye
and even post you know, all of the court battle
and all of that. But that moment in particular was
is something that no child should ever experience.

Speaker 1 (16:23):
It was really, really, really difficult. Do you think that
your mother felt that you had were pulling away, like
that you were different and had changed.

Speaker 2 (16:32):
Yeah, absolutely, and I don't think that she was capable
at the time of seeing that as a positive thing,
that I needed room to grow into my own person.
And now as a mother, I completely understand it. You know,
I can't imagine letting go of my son so that
he could grow. I mean, you know, I don't think

(16:52):
that she saw it in that way in the beginning.
In the beginning, it was like, Okay, someone this small
little ballot studio in San Pedro, California. This teacher thinks
my daughter's talented. Okay, I'll go let her take some
ballet classes after school. And I don't think she really
understood maybe like the magnitude of my talent or what

(17:12):
the opportunities could look like. And so for her, it
just felt like this woman kind of coming into our
lives and taking me away. And so yeah, it took
time for her to really understand what it was I
was doing with my career and where it could take me.

Speaker 1 (17:31):
But it was difficult.

Speaker 2 (17:32):
I mean I was thirteen years old when I moved
in with my ballet teacher and her husband and at
the time their three year old son, and I lived
with them for like three and a half years, and
that was how I could catch up on all of
my training. I mean, they were completely dedicated to getting
me to ABT.

Speaker 1 (17:50):
That was the goal.

Speaker 2 (17:51):
And four years, within four years of training, I was
at ABT dancing professionally.

Speaker 1 (17:56):
So at what point did the mindset switched for you
to say, this is my future, this is my profession,
and did you buy in that ABT was the goal?
I would say so.

Speaker 2 (18:09):
It must have been a couple of months after I
started dancing when I was invited to live with my teacher.
That's when I knew that this was what I was
going to do. I knew that I was going to
be a professional. I knew ABT was it. ABT was
the only company my teacher really ever introduced me to.
She had all of the programs from the time the
company was formed and it was founded, and I knew
every dancer like throughout the seventies and eighties and was

(18:31):
watching all the VHS tapes and was just like obsessed
with this company. And you know, as I got older,
you know, she explained to me that it was the
most culturally diverse company in the world, especially you know,
in the eighties and in the nineties. This was where
international superstars. They were all coming to ABT. You didn't

(18:51):
have to come through a school and have all the
same training. People could come from all different places, and
she just felt like, as a black girl, this was
something somewhere where she felt I could fit in more
so than most other companies.

Speaker 1 (19:05):
Where you have to train in their school.

Speaker 2 (19:06):
Most you know, they typically all look the same, and
ABT was very unique in that way.

Speaker 1 (19:12):
It was once again Cindy who fostered an environment for
Misty where she felt comfortable and included. In fact, Misty
found out later in life that Cindy had fended off
angry parents who made comments about Missy's race.

Speaker 2 (19:25):
I'm fortunate for the way that my first teacher really
kind of sheltered me from a lot, because I think
had I been focused on being the only black girl
in my school or possibly being the only black woman
to go to a professional company no matter where I went,
I think that wouldn't have allowed me to really just

(19:46):
focus on the training and just feel like I'm just
like everyone else. You know, I'm just a dancer. And
that's really the environment she made for me. Now looking back,
like we've had many conversations about the things that she
kept from I mean, there were students that pulled out
of the school when I came, their parents that were
giving money or on the board that were like why

(20:06):
is she doing the lead? And just so things like
that that were happening that I wasn't aware of. So
when I got to ABT, it was like I'm just
another dancer.

Speaker 1 (20:16):
At just sixteen, three years after beginning ballet, she ventured
to New York to train at the American Ballet Theater
or ABT for a summer intensive.

Speaker 2 (20:27):
Initially, I was just overwhelmed. You know, I'm from a
small town like on the beach, like a port city
in California, and then to be to come here for
the first time, like in the dead of summer when
it's just like so hot and muggy, and I just
remember being so overwhelmed with like the trash on the streets.

Speaker 1 (20:45):
I couldn't understand.

Speaker 2 (20:46):
I was like, why is there so much trash on
the streets? Like people just leave their trash like out,
you know, to be picked. A question still was like
why is this happening. I fell in love within a
week and just couldn't imagine myself living anywhere else. And
this is like you know this like cultural mecca and
you know, thinking of Ballet, New York City Ballet and

(21:06):
ABT being here. And at the end of the program,
Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director, pulled me aside and offered
me a contract with their junior company.

Speaker 1 (21:17):
Wow.

Speaker 2 (21:17):
And it was like, well, I didn't know it was
going to start this soon, Like it was like my
first summer away. And I remember I just said to him, Oh,
I have to call my mom and ask. He's like wow,
like yeah, she's a little girl, and.

Speaker 1 (21:31):
My mom said no, So I ended up.

Speaker 2 (21:33):
She was like, I really want you to have as
normal of this high school experience as possible. And I
was like, I hated it.

Speaker 4 (21:40):
You know.

Speaker 2 (21:40):
I didn't want to go to prom, like that was
like the farthest thing from what I wanted to do.
But she made me.

Speaker 1 (21:45):
I went to PROM. It was terrible.

Speaker 2 (21:47):
It was someone I didn't want to go.

Speaker 1 (21:50):
It was just terrible. I was like, I just want
to be in New York. So I went to PROM.

Speaker 2 (21:54):
I graduated, but Kevin promised that he would have a
contract waiting for me when I graduated high school, so
I came back for the summer when I was seventeen
years old, and I moved here that summer and finished
the summer intensive program and then at the end of
the program, instead of going into the studio company, which
is what he offered me, he offered me an apprenticeship

(22:14):
with the company. So within two weeks I was in
China with the company. It was my first time out
of the country and it just kind of all began.

Speaker 5 (22:23):
Now we shine our Sunday spotlight on an African American trailblazer.
Misty Copeland is set to become a breakout ballet star,
one of the only elite black ballerinas, and now she's
wondering why there aren't more like her here.

Speaker 6 (22:36):
I read an article about Misty Copeland, the ballet dancer
you're familiar with.

Speaker 1 (22:39):
Missy is a very interesting person.

Speaker 6 (22:42):
He's the first African American female principal dancer with the
American Ballet Theater and I have to say, and.

Speaker 2 (22:49):
Then I ended up moving in with a a ballet
legend and her family Isabelle Brown on the Upper West Side,
and she had children, Leslie Brown, who was there of
the turning point in principal dancer at ABT, and her
son Ethan Brown, and a daughter who was in New
York City Ballet. They trained at SAB so I was
living in there, the apartment that she raised her children,

(23:09):
and it was just like, oh my gosh. You know,
I would she would leave and you know, go out
on the town and I would sneak into a bookshelf
and like find every ABT program possible, and just like this,
it was like a dream of Ballerina's dream.

Speaker 1 (23:26):
You were sort of forced to reckon with that pretty
young at nineteen due to serious injury. Yeah, and tell
us about that, And I mean, your body went through
very serious transformation at that point because of it.

Speaker 2 (23:37):
I was still so new to dance, so I don't
even think I really understood like the severity of an
injury and what that meant. So it was my first
year in the court of ballet, and I was not
I didn't understand that I was an athlete. I didn't
understand how to take care of my body and what
PT looked like, and not PT because you're injured, but

(23:58):
just to maintain that wasn't something that was even like
talked about at that point, you know, when I was
coming up and so I was just working, working, working
any gig that was being offered to me. I mean
I was dancing on concrete sometimes, Like it was just terrible,
and I ended up with a stress reaction in my
lower lambard and I ended up in a back brace
for six months. I was wearing it twenty three hours

(24:20):
a day, and so I was out dancing for a year.
And at that time, the doctors felt like I got
the fracture because I wasn't menstruating, and they felt that that,
you know, and to me, like looking back, it was
like I was so healthy, it was completely normal. I
was very small and very athletic, and so they ended
up putting me on bird control. And back then, I

(24:41):
mean it was like like so many hormones in these pills.
They're not like lighter versions that are offered today. And
I gained ten pounds within like a couple of weeks,
and I had a completely different body that was like
so unfamiliar to me. And then you know it cletanly
changed how I was looked at in the valley world.

(25:02):
Like I came back to ABT after this injury and
had like a double D breast and was so much heavier,
and it was like, oh, all those opportunities kind of
dried up because of you know, instead of you know,
and it was like, oh, go see go see a nutritionists,
but you have to pay for it, you know, And
so it was just there wasn't just I think it's

(25:24):
just how the ballet world especially was at that time.
That's not wasn't very nurturing, wasn't allowing people to understand
like all that it takes to be a part of
this field, that there's so much that you have to
do to take care of yourself.

Speaker 1 (25:38):
Can you talk to us about the mental process that
you have to go through? You know, I think that
people see your success and your how strong you are
and think, well, of course, of course she's so successful.
You know, she keeps herself an incredible shape. Of course
she's But you've had very serious injuries with long time
periods of being out. Can you talk to us about

(25:59):
how how you mentally go through those moments.

Speaker 2 (26:02):
It's so wild to look back on it, because I
felt like at the time, like, oh, I was like
a nutcase because like you're doing everything to stay positive,
and for me, in my mind it was like I
have to keep dancing in my mind and to not
kind of step away and lose that momentum. So even
if I couldn't physically do everything I needed to do,

(26:24):
you know, I was working on things I had control over.
So for instance, my most severe injury happened, and I
think it was twenty twelve. I had six stress fractures
in my tibia, and three of them were almost full
breaks through the bone, and I ended up having a
plate screwed in. And I was told by probably ten

(26:45):
doctors I would never dance again. And I found one
doctor who worked with athletes, who worked with you know,
basketball players in the Knicks and professional football players. It
was like, oh, we deal with these injuries all the time.
Put the plate in. But you know then I couldn't.
I had to learn how to walk again. I you know,
it was like starting over and at that time, and

(27:07):
I've always been this way, you know, whenever I've had injuries,
I've wanted to find different ways of cross training, like
what can I do that's going to make me better?
And so I found this amazing little old woman. I
ran into her at the JCC in the locker room
and she looked at me and she was like, are
you Misty Copeland? And I was like, yeah, she's like
I just saw you in the Firebird like a week ago,

(27:29):
like what's happening? And you know, And then I ended
up finding out she was a floor bar teacher and
she had trained with this man in Paris who created
the technique that she knew, and that was kind of
what kept me sane. I mean, I wasn't standing, but
I was doing ballet bar laying on my back and
on my stomach and on my side, and I was
working on my portbral like my arms and things that

(27:51):
I knew I wanted to work on. But I think
that it's really staying mentally focused and mentally positive and
like a healthy headspace. Well, you've spoken a lot about,
you know, kind of looking in hindsight about how coming
up through the ranks as the only black ballerina it
felt lonely and you didn't have a lot of peers

(28:12):
when you were looking forward to it, like you thought
of ABT as the most culturally diverse company, did you
have an awareness that it would be isolating?

Speaker 1 (28:21):
Like what was your mindset going in? From that perspective?

Speaker 2 (28:24):
It was very shocking, Like immediately even just being in
performances in different ballets that are considered they're called the
white ballets, and you know, it was never even discussed
with me, like what I'd have to do in order
to like, you know, paint my skin a lighter color
to fit in with the rest of the Court of
Balet and things like that. That's when I really started

(28:46):
to feel isolated and different, and I started to seek
outside support and mentorship because there just wasn't around me.
And it wasn't even that like the company, like they
were my friends. You know, It's not like I was
like completely on my own and isolated, but there was

(29:07):
just a lack of understanding of what it is to
be the only in a room, or some of the microaggressions,
and even something as simple as like it was saying
like having to I remember in particular, I think we
were on the road in like Detroit or somewhere like touring,
and we were doing the Valet Gazelle and the second act,
all the willies in the Court of Balet. You know,

(29:28):
we all put the pancake on our skin because we're
supposed to be dead, and it was just normal that,
you know, there's one color and they just pass it
around the room before the second act for everyone. I
was like I can't wear this color, like all look
like I'm ashy, like I need lotion. And it was
just little things like that that just started to get
me thinking, like, there's not like history books that you

(29:48):
can really open up and learn about other black dancers
that have been in these companies have been the only
in these companies they existed. So I just was like
on a mission to finding out who are these people?
I know I'm a part of something that's bigger than myself,
and how can I connect with this community that I
know is there?

Speaker 1 (30:08):
So how quickly? At what point did you say okay?
Well as well as dancing my tail off, like to
be in your real profession as a principal ballerina. In addition,
I'm going to create a whole body of work that's
going to open the funnel for other women and girls
to be in this profession.

Speaker 2 (30:28):
Having amazing mentors in my life and black women that
I think allowed me to see myself in a different way,
not that they were telling me how to see myself,
but just seeing them existing in their fields as the
first and how I felt towards them, and then thinking, well,
there's just me being on this stage at ABT is

(30:51):
giving hope to you know, one person that might come
and see a performance and be able to see themselves
represented on this stage. Allowed me to start to think
beyond this kind of narrow career of like what it
was growing up. It was like, I want to be
a soloist one day and then I want to be
a principal. But to me, this is so much bigger

(31:12):
than all of that, like this opportunity.

Speaker 1 (31:15):
It was a handful of people who helped Misty turn
that ambition into action. Her manager, Gilda Squire, showed Misty
how she could turn her incredible story of resilience into
something that can impact young girls and change the ballet
industry for generations to come.

Speaker 2 (31:31):
She approached me, it was for pr and she was like,
I'm just so fascinated with your story.

Speaker 1 (31:36):
I think more.

Speaker 2 (31:36):
People need to hear about about your story and where
you come from and you've gotten here and you're you know,
the first I was a second female African American soloist
cit ABT at that time, and so she pro bono
for a couple of months and was like, just let's.

Speaker 1 (31:52):
See what we can do.

Speaker 2 (31:53):
You know what traction we can get And I would
just go to public schools and like speak to kids
and just say like, I'm a person like you know,
I can't. I come from similar background as you and
like where I'm at. And it continued to grow, and
after you know, that time passed where she was like, Okay,
well that's that, Like that was my time, and I
was like, what do you know? My manager, I didn't

(32:14):
even really understood stand what that meant, but she saw
something in me that I think no one had ever seen.

Speaker 1 (32:21):
Once Missy's perspective on her career and impact shifted, she
began to find opportunities elsewhere, opportunities that aligned with her
vision for a more inclusive future. And I feel like
things just kind of in the way that they have.

Speaker 2 (32:37):
I think throughout my career that I've never really said Okay,
I want to do this and then made it happen,
rather than like things just making sense and organically falling
into place that are all aligned with the same goals
and the same missions as what I'm doing when I'm
on stage. You know, it's about representation, It's about showing
the beauty of this art form that it's an incredible

(32:58):
way of communicating. It's just arts education, dance education is
so vital, and so everything that I do is really
connected to those you know, same goals.

Speaker 1 (33:10):
Yeah, so you were thinking of them as an extension
of the work that you were doing, and they were
contemporaneous in time. Were you thinking of them as well,
you know, now I'll have a career income streams if
the dancing ends, because you know, one day it might end.
And also you went through.

Speaker 2 (33:29):
Some pretty serious injuries. Yeah, you know, I never thought
of it that way. I never thought like I need
to do these things in case, you know, I get
injured and I can't dance again, or because my career
it will be over one day. I did them because
they felt right. And again they've been happening throughout my career,
so it's not like it's like, you know, towards the

(33:50):
end and then I started doing all of these things.
That's it really has been a slow growth through throughout
my career. But of course, like, yes, you know, I
think that something that I encourage young dancers and even
just even my colleagues, you know, to do is to
live your life, not to get so kind of immersed
in this world that you aren't actually living and experiencing

(34:13):
things and seeing things that might organically just come in
or things that you think of that will draw you
in a certain path and direction. I think that no
matter what people want to do, after being exposed to
the arts, or exposed to dance or ballet in particular,
they're going to be great at whatever they do, because
I think that, you know, we're taught to be focused
and disciplined, and our work ethic is like no other,

(34:35):
and so you know, I don't think it's really about
you know, trying to force a different career on yourself,
but just like allowing these things to happen, that those
things won't happen unless you go out and you explore
and experience, and you also, I think, will be a
more full artist if you have those experiences as well.

Speaker 7 (34:52):
At this moment, I don't think ballet could be more
relevant in the world and in pop culture, and I
think that the arts to this in general for people,
which is why I think it's so vital for the
arts to be a part of our you know, education,
a part of it should be a part of our
school curriculum, no matter what the art form is.

Speaker 1 (35:12):
Her passion for ballet and the arts is reflected in
one of her largest ventures to date, the Misty Copeland Foundation,
which offers dance education through their program be Bold. So yeah,
I mean it's just it started as this small idea,
you know, and Darren Walker and encouraging me, and he
introduced me to my philanthropic advisor, Jane poland He's really incredible,

(35:36):
and you know, it was like, well, what has ballet
given you that you would want to give back to
communities like.

Speaker 2 (35:44):
You came from and beyond. And you know, thinking back
on that first ballet class that I took, like, not
every child, especially who comes from circumstances like I did,
has access an opportunity, and that's what I was given
at my Boys and Girls Club, you know, by them
giving me this space and access with this teacher coming

(36:05):
in to find more diverse students to bring in her
school in full scholarship. So it was really taking that
concept and idea but really shaking it.

Speaker 1 (36:12):
Up even more than that.

Speaker 2 (36:13):
So we built our first signature program under the Misty
Couple Foundation is be BOLD and it stands for Ballet
Explorations Ballet offers leadership development. To me, it's bigger and
goes beyond just a free ballet class. You know, we're
not necessarily out there looking for the next ballet superstar.
We're giving these children an opportunity to be in this space,

(36:36):
to have some sense of release and stress free where
their phones aren't in front of them or you know,
just the stress of whatever is going on in their
lives before they make it to this after school program.
And we've taken the concept of a ballet class and
really kind of shaken it up as well. So you know,
we're thinking right now, we're in the Bronx and we're

(36:58):
in Harlem. We're at fourteen sites and we have fifteen
classes that are being offered at different community centers. We
started out at just boys and girls clubs. What we've
expanded beyond that because we really want to reach as
many children as possible. But you know, thinking about this
European art form and like, how will these kids connect
to this bringing it into their communities. The goal of
the Mysticopal Foundation is to bring greater diversity, equity and

(37:23):
inclusion to dance, but especially ballet. Be Bold is the
first initiative.

Speaker 5 (37:28):
With the kids, and you're actually doing all of the
things that eight years ago when we first interviewed you
said you wanted to do, you're doing them.

Speaker 2 (37:36):
Yeah, and so we wanted to really take what ballet
is in terms of, you know, the foundation and the
technique and holding on to that, but doing it in
a way that is more accessible. We have live musicians
in every class and it's not just piano, it's drummers
and bass players and literally every musician you can think of.

(37:58):
We want to be able to show these children that
you could move to anything, just finding fun and accessful
ways of bringing them into the ballet community, and it's
been very successful. Beyond her foundation, she also works in
the commercial space, bringing her expertise as an elite athlete

(38:18):
to her partnership with under Armour, the first ballerina to
join an athletic brand, and eventually with her athletic wearline,
Greatness Wins. It's really exciting that when I think back
to when I when I first joined under Armour and
what a big deal it was for a brand, and
I feel like, you know, under Armour we really grew together.

(38:40):
Stephen Curry, you know, was really starting was like coming
into his own and Jordan Spief and God.

Speaker 1 (38:47):
Who also was there there.

Speaker 2 (38:48):
I mean, there was some mega athletic stars and then
for them to bring me in as you know, the
first ballerina to be put, you know, next to these
big athletes was such a big deal. But it was
like we we are equally as athletic, if not war
and what the training is and what we have to do,
and you know, we are artists as well and actors
and actresses, and we deserve to have opportunity, financial opportunities

(39:12):
like this in the same way the professional athletes do.
And so I've tried to think about ways in which
I could start my own line, and when I was
approached by Derek Jeter with this idea for this athletic
unline Greatness Wins, it was like, this is what I've
been waiting for. This makes sense to not just be
the Facebook product now at this point, but to be

(39:33):
a founder in the company. So it's really exciting to
you know, Derek launch the line a year ago, the
men's line, and then I launched the women's line just
a couple of months ago. So it's exciting, and you know,
I think, what better people to have on on the
inside who understand what it is to be an athlete
and actually wear this gear and how we can make

(39:54):
it the best it can be. So it's a lot
to take on.

Speaker 1 (39:58):
How involved in it are you? Are you the design,
the product.

Speaker 2 (40:01):
Everything, I'm involved in everything. We're like a small but
mighty team and we're just you know, trying to show
that this is a really great quality product. But I
think it's also about the stories that we're telling and
that we're connecting with people. Like this is athletic where
for everyone, but it's for people who are focused and
really want to work in the gym or in the

(40:23):
studio or wherever you are. That it's not an athletes
your line. Yes, there are beautiful pieces that you can
wear that are comfortable, but it's really about serious athletes.
And I don't mean that in a way of professional athletes,
but people who are really you know, focused and dedicated
on being you know.

Speaker 1 (40:37):
Their best selves. Okay, I have to ask you about
your performance Live with Taylor Swift.

Speaker 2 (40:43):
It was an incredible experience. Like I've worked with a
lot of artists and especially musicians and incredible musicians, and
you just never know what you're going to get.

Speaker 1 (40:55):
And I feel that doing this podcast.

Speaker 2 (40:57):
You never know, you never know, and people are never
really what you think they might be.

Speaker 1 (41:02):
And you're exactly what I thought you would be. You're
very nice.

Speaker 2 (41:06):
Thank you. Well, She's everything I thought she would be,
which was really incredible.

Speaker 5 (41:11):
You know.

Speaker 2 (41:12):
I remember she called up my manager and she was like,
I really want miss to perform with me at the
American Music Awards she was being honored, and I was like, oh, okay.
I never imagined or thought about performing with her. And
she was just she was so invested and so involved
and so respectful. It wasn't like me and my partner
were going up there as her backup dancers. Like she

(41:34):
really acknowledged us as partners with her in this performance.
And we spent hours and hours rehearsing together in the theater,
and her whole family was there, and they're just all
so grounded and so normal. I gets so wild when
you meet someone that's like that much of a mega
superstar and is normal. I mean Prince was not normal,

(41:54):
and I mean that in the best way. I mean
he was like a rock star, like it, you know,
the classic idea of a rock star, and so it's
like very different, you know people.

Speaker 1 (42:06):
So for the process for the performance that you did
both with Prince and with Taylor Swift was it a
collaborative creation process, like did you choreograph it? Kind of
on the music with her.

Speaker 2 (42:16):
Yeah, So she sent the music ahead of time and
I had a choreographer, but we were literally sending her
videos of these rehearsals as it was being created, and
she was like approving or saying like this would work
better if you're over here. The piano is going to
be here, and I want to sing to you at
this point.

Speaker 1 (42:34):
So it was very collaborative.

Speaker 2 (42:35):
With Prince, it was like a mix of things because
I worked with him over the course of like five years.
Where you know, when I first started working with him,
he was like, oh, just improvise and make up stuff
on the stage, and I was like, what, like as
ballet dancers, Like yeah, that's not something you're learned to do.
It's like you're told what to do down to like
where your eyes are looking at like every moment, and
so it was like shocking, but I grew so much
as an artist working with him.

Speaker 1 (42:57):
But then later on we.

Speaker 2 (42:58):
Were working together, he was like, oh, you know, you
can bring a choreographer in, but then he ended up
choreographing it himself, like literally he was like no, no, no,
this is what I want you to do, And I'm like,
all right, I'll turn that into a ballet move. I
guess like what he's doing.

Speaker 1 (43:14):
When I watched your performance with Taylor Swift, the way
that it flows, she goes like, you know, nine minutes
that builds and builds and builds, and it's so wild
and then it slows down to this beautiful moment with
you dancing and her at the piano. And as I
was watching it, I had in my head you saying, well,
as ballet dancers were not used to seeing an active audience, right,

(43:37):
And I thought, oh, my goodness, how did you take
your adrenaline down to be in that moment? It's really hard.

Speaker 2 (43:43):
I mean, I has such a different experience again, like
you were saying, you know, usually where you don't see
you can't even see people, And that was what That's
what I've loved about, you know, performing in this kind
of concert field where you're in a theater, where you
feel like you're in this kind of secure bubble.

Speaker 1 (44:02):
And then when you're.

Speaker 2 (44:03):
In those spaces, it's just like there's no rules and yeah,
it's like you have to stay grounded. You can't get
carried away with all the like hype and chaos that
you're seeing, which is harder to stay focused, and like
when someone's looking at you or whistling or wanting to
throw something on the stage and you're in point shoes.

Speaker 1 (44:23):
Recently, Misty became a mother, and when she speaks about
her son, she glows. It's clear that she's excited and
ready for this new chapter of her life.

Speaker 2 (44:33):
I'm very fortunate that I was able to have a
baby at thirty nine. That's not always the case. It's
just amazing to people to step back and really focus
on family, you know, at forty years old. And we
were talking earlier about you know how difficult it is
for working women to set aside the time to have

(44:57):
a family, and especially being an athlete and being a
performed I'm so grateful for the career that I've had,
but it's it's difficult, you know, to find that balance.
And I'm just lucky to have him. And I have
friends who have waited until their careers have been over
towards the end of their careers, and they have they're

(45:18):
struggling or just can't and it's really difficult to watch.
But you know, I always knew that I wanted to
wait until I got to a certain place in my career.
Before I did that. I know that had I been
a soloist and had a baby, there's no way that
and it's so terrible to say, but that they would
have taken me seriously and continued to give me opportunities,
and that time I would have been out and wanted

(45:39):
to be with my baby, I would have been pushed
to the side, and other opportunities would have been given away.
And so I knew that I wanted to wait until
I was a principal dancer. I was thirty two when
I was promoted to principal, a moment.

Speaker 4 (45:57):
In history shared on Instagram answer Misty Copeland is celebrating
with her fellow dancers after learning of her promotion, becoming
the first African American female principle in the American Ballet
theaters seventy five year history, the highest honor for a performer.

Speaker 2 (46:14):
But then like you get to that place and you're like,
but I need to actually be a principal dancer now.
So it was like five years I waited, and then
you know, the pandemic happened, and which was perfect timing
for me to be able to just kind of take
a moment, after you know, being a professional for twenty
years and really not stopping unless I had an injury,
to really step back and say, there's so many more

(46:37):
things I want to do that I've kind of started,
but now I can really focus.

Speaker 1 (46:42):
So I mean, the pandemic was terrible for everybody, I think,
particularly people in the performing arts because there was no
light at the end of the tunnel, But it did
give you that time, the opportunity to expand on these things.
How quickly did you jump into it and how did
you decide to use your time?

Speaker 2 (46:59):
I jumped immediately. I feel like that was such a
difficult time for us in the performing arts, but it
allowed us to have some step back and have some perspective,
you know, to really realize that there are so many
things we need to be doing to memorialize like what
we do, you know, with all of the union rules

(47:20):
and things like that, Like we don't have at least
at American Ballet Theater, and I think more specifically in
the United States, we don't have access to be being
able to film record a lot of our performances. There's
so many rules and things like that, and I think
We really realized it during the pandemic, where it was like, well,
what are we going to show? We don't have anything
to show, and so that really made me start to

(47:42):
think about my production company, which was already formed, I
don't know, three or four years before the pandemic, but like,
this is an opportunity to capture movement on my own
terms in spaces that looking at a theater in a
different way, like it doesn't have to be a traditional theater.
We created our film Flower, which is a short film

(48:03):
and using the streets of Oakland for our stage. Stee
Copeland is blending art and activism through her latest project, Flower.

Speaker 8 (48:11):
It's a twenty eight minute film that pays homage to
black silent films of the nineteen twenties. Flower premiere at
Tribeca Festival and you can see it this Saturday at
Lincoln Centerox.

Speaker 7 (48:21):
We are officially on the red carpet for Flower, and
trust me, you want to stick around.

Speaker 1 (48:26):
We got a lot of stars coming up and we
are at the.

Speaker 2 (48:28):
Telling stories that are relevant to what we're going through,
not just as Americans but in the world, you know,
dealing with homelessness and the housing crisis and gentrification and
so you know, it just kind of expanded and opened
my eyes to ways I could use what I've learned
on stage to do so many different things.

Speaker 1 (48:51):
From that quiet girl from coastal California to now impacting
change at the highest levels. Misty has become more and
more comfortable, has a seat at tables and boards that
can truly make impactful change.

Speaker 2 (49:04):
And then I also was having conversation with Alex Poots,
the artistic director of The Shed, and you know, we
had come up with a bunch of ideas that never
really came to fruition. But I ended up joining the
board of The Shed, you know, which was a really
big steps as an artist, as an athlete, as a
black woman to be on the other end of things.

(49:24):
And then shortly thereafter I ended up joining the board
of Lincoln Center. And this is all during the pandemic.
And to me, I've always talked about like, how do
we really make impactful change within the dance world. And
I think that, you know, to be able to see
more inclusion and more diversity, I think it starts from
the top. It starts from the board of directors. So

(49:45):
to be able to have a presence and have a
voice in those spaces to me, is how we really
see real like systemic change.

Speaker 1 (49:54):
You had said over the summer that you thought this
fall you were going to be dancing again.

Speaker 2 (49:59):
Yeah, that was the idea.

Speaker 1 (50:03):
Not to be a spoiler alerd here, but it is
no longer the thought. It didn't happen.

Speaker 2 (50:09):
That didn't happen.

Speaker 6 (50:09):
No.

Speaker 2 (50:10):
I mean, I feel like I've gotten so much momentum
with all of these things, and I'm so hands on
with everything that there was like there was no way
that I could step away. And I've dedicated twenty three years,
you know, to being a professional, and now I think
it's time to focus on these other things, you know,
while while they have you know, this this momentum going

(50:34):
and I want to continue to grow my family as well,
so we'll see. I know that dance well, dance will
always be in my life. It's everything that I'm doing
outside of being on the stage. But I know that
I will make it back to the stage in some capacity,
but I don't know what that will look like right now.

Speaker 1 (50:51):
Oh I love that. So looking back, what's one thing
that at the time you thought, oh, this is this
is really a setback? Like this is really this is
really a Dane and now you look at it as
having changed your mindset. So it really launched you, I
would say.

Speaker 2 (51:06):
My biggest injury. You know, there were moments where the
night before I pulled out of the season, I had
performed the Firebird for the first time at the Metropaltan
Opera House. It was the first time we saw almost
what was a full house, but more than half of
the audience were black and brown people, and it was
just such an incredible experience to see this transformation of

(51:30):
people that are interested in classical ballet and actually showing
up in a space that they haven't always felt welcomed.
And the following day I pulled out and I was like,
I don't you know that performance needed to happen. Whether
or not my leg was going to break in the
middle of it or not, it needed to happen because
this is bigger than me.

Speaker 1 (51:50):
It's like, we did it.

Speaker 2 (51:52):
We got all of those people in the room, and
then it was like, Okay, well now what And I
think that I learned so much from that experience. Set again,
it's like, it's not about me as an individual, but
it's about how can I use my voice and use
my platform to bring about change, and I think that
that just made me feel like I could do anything,

(52:14):
that there's so much more there that I'm never going
to be that dnswer I was before that injury. I'm
never going to be that woman I was before I
had a baby, you know, Like, but we should be evolving,
We should be continuing to pivot throughout our lives. That's
how we continue to evolve as you know, a society,
and so I think it's so important that we're always

(52:36):
thinking about how we can continue to grow and be
better than who we used to be and also inspire
the next generation to be better than we are.

Speaker 1 (52:47):
So, you know, given all of your work on stage
off stage, what do you want your legacy to be?
That's such a hard question, you know.

Speaker 2 (52:55):
I really hope to just have had an impact on
the community that we really do see meaningful change and growth,
because I feel like we've existed in this bubble for
so long and haven't been forced to be more inclusive.
And I hope that that's what I've done. I hope
that I've you know, shown people, taught people about different

(53:19):
black and brown dancers throughout history that maybe they haven't
known about or that our history books don't share. I
want my legacy to be that I am a storyteller,
and not just of the traditional historical ballets, but of
what ballet could look like for the future.

Speaker 1 (53:36):
Oh I love that well. Thank you so much for
joining us and so great for having me. Misty is
continuing to grow the Misty Copeland Foundation and her athletic wear,
all while balancing becoming a mother. If you want to
dive into Misty's incredible story, be sure to read her
New York Times bestselling memoir Life and Motion. Misty says

(53:59):
she hopes to return to the stage, so be sure
to follow her on Instagram at Misty on Point so
you don't miss it. Thanks for listening to this episode
of She Pivots. If you made it this far, you're
a true pivoter, So thanks for being part of this community.
I hope you enjoyed this episode, and if you did

(54:19):
leave us a rating, please be nice tell your friends
about us. To learn more about our guests, follow us
on Instagram at she Pivots the Podcast, or sign up
for our newsletter where you can get exclusive behind the
scenes content, or on our website, She Pivots the Podcast.
Talk to you Next Week special thanks to the she
Pivots team. Executive producer Emily eda Velosik, Associate producer and

(54:42):
social media connoisseur Hannah Cousins, Research director Christine Dickinson, Events
and Logistics coordinator Madeline Sonovak, and audio editor and mixer
Nina pollock I endorseh she Pivots
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